Month: January 2014

You’ve got to Pastor the Church You’ve Got

Many years ago I was Pastoring in West Virginia when one Sunday afternoon I got a call Christ Church Stellartonfrom a friend of mine who was Pastoring a church about twenty miles from us.  He started the conversation by saying, “I need your opinion, my deacons came to me after the service this morning and said they needed me to come to a special called meeting tonight.”  Then he asked me a hard question, “Do you think I’m in trouble?”  My response was to ask him some questions, specifically, “Have you done anything different or controversial?”  He then proceeded to tell me that on that particular morning he had decided to institute some changes in the church so that it would be more relevant and effective in reaching people.

Before we move forward let me give you some important information about his church and community.  The church was located in a rural part of West Virginia and was made up mostly of senior adults.  Yet for some reason my Pastor friend had decided that it would be relevant to preach in a pair of shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.  Needless to say, it did not go over very well.  He had made a common mistake — He was trying to Pastor someone else’s church— maybe Rick Warren’s, maybe Don Ho’s but certainly not a rural church in West Virginia.  That brings me to an important point.

As Pastors we must Pastor the church we have while trying to move it to become the church it needs to be.  Read that again, because it is more profound than it might first appear.  We have a duty and a responsibility to cast a God-given vision for what the church needs to become.  Like it or not we live in a ever changing culture and we must constantly find effective ways of presenting the eternal truth of the gospel.  While our message is always the same, our methods will always be changing.  But on the balancing side of that we must keep in mind that we have to Pastor the church we have.  Not someone else’s.  Not the church that we wish we had.  Not the church we hope to become.  The church that we have right in front of us.  That means that we need to be patient and careful in how we institute change.

My friends mistake was twofold.  First, he thought that what was working in Southern California or somewhere else would work in rural West Virginia.  Second, he did not take the time to really learn his community.  This is mistake that my generation of Pastors has been particularly prone to falling into.  We read or hear what someone else is doing and thing that we can get the same results by replicating what they are doing.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We must be missionaries in our communities learning how to effectively present the gospel to the people who we minister to.  Remember, you have to Pastor the church you have while trying to move it to become the church it needs to be.

1 Corinthians 12: Notes from Sunday Nights Sermon

In this chapter Paul turns his attention to the issue of spiritual gifts within the church.  Apparently in Corinth some of the people began equating spirituality with some of the more spectacular and attention grabbing gifts.  We need to remember that Paul was dealing here with immature believers.  They had been converted but brought some of their old habits into the church with them.  So the jealousies and self-ambitions that are part of the human nature became evident within the church.

We suffer from the same problems in the church in America but the problem has been amplified by a great deal of unbiblical teaching concerning the issues of spiritual gifts.  Some in the church have emphasized a more experiential form of the Christian life that is not grounded or derived from the Scriptures.
But on the opposite extreme we’ve had those who simply decided to ignore the issue all together.  When I was growing up in the church, we hardly ever heard any teaching about the Holy Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit.  Over the next few weeks I want to unfold some of the Biblical teaching concerning spiritual gifts.
You will not in v.1 that Paul says he does not want the Corinthians to be “uninformed” about the issue of spiritual gifts.  This might have been mildly offensive to some in the Corinthian church because, as you will see in the coming weeks, there was a group within the church who thought they were experts in the issue.  What Paul wants to show them in these chapters is that although they placed a great deal of emphasis on the spiritual gifts, the Corinthians were in fact rather uneducated or uninformed about the truth concerning spiritual gifts.  So in this chapter he lays out several key issues to help us understand how to identify and employ spiritual gifts in the service of Jesus.
  1. Identifying the work of the Holy Spirit (v.1-3)
    • Paul reminds the Corinthians of their pagan past
      • Paganism was rampant in Roman empire and their were idols on nearly every street
      • Every year citizens of the Roman empire were required to appear before an altar and declare the “Caesar is Lord.”
    • Basic principle here is that the Holy Spirit always glorifies and points towards Jesus
      • John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
      • John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
    • When the primary emphasis is on the Holy Spirit or any other spirit and the attention is taken away from Jesus, you are probably dealing with something false.
  2. Diversity of gifts, (v.4-6)
    • The Corinthians were giving too much attention to a handful of spiritual gifts and making the gifts of tongues out to be the preeminent gift.
      • This is a human trait, driven by our sinful pride
      • It was causing great strife in the church
    • Unity in diversity (v.4-6)
      • Same Spirit empowers a variety of gifts
      • Paul uses several interesting words here to describe the spiritual gifts:
        • gifts- charismata, emphasis on the fact that they have been freely given by God’s grace.
        • service– diakonia (same root word from which we get deacon) emphasis here on the fact that we don’t employ spiritual gifts for our own person gain, they are to be used in the service of the church
        • activities- energema – focus here on the energy, enablement of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts are the result of God’s powerful work in our lives.
    • These three facts alone should help to correct a lot of the problems involved with spiritual gifts:
      • They are not something we seek or develop – they are given to us.
      • They are not to be used for personal gain or attention but rather to serve the Lord.
      • They are not a matter of human effort or ability but rather are something supernatural.
  3. List of spiritual gifts (v.7-11)
    • Verse 7 is the key here – gifts are given for the common good of the church.  They should never divide but rather unify and build the church.
    • List of gifts:
      • Wisdom
      • Knowledge
      • Faith
      • Healing
      • Miracles
      • Discernment
      • Interpretation of tongues
    • Each empowered by the Holy Spirit
      • The point that Paul is making here is that the Holy Spirit is just as much work in the gift of wisdom or knowledge as He is in miracles or tongues.
      • The same spirit that gifts one person with the ability to speak in tongues and another to interpret also enable other members of the church to be able to have greater than usual faith or discernment.
    • The truth of the matter is that the church needs many different gifts and the Holy Spirit specifically places certain people in certain churches at certain times to perform certain ministries.
  4. The Body of Christ (v.12-26)
    • One body with many different parts (v.12-13)
    • All of the members are important (v.14-20)
    • All of the members are interdependent (v.21-26)
    • Every believer is part of the body of Christ (v.27)

What does it mean to be successful in the ministry?

imagesThis morning I started re-reading “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes.  In the first two chapters of this book, Kent shares his experience with ministry burnout.  Anyone who has been in the ministry for more than a couple of years can relate to what Hughes writes about the turmoil that enters into the soul of the Pastor/Minister who buys into a worldly definition of success in the ministry.  The sad truth is that we have made success in the ministry everything but what God says that it should be.  We have made it about numbers — we sometimes jokingly call this the nickels and noses syndrome— but God has defines success in less quantifiable but far more important terms.  In God’s economy success is more about things such as faithfulness, service, and holiness for more than how many people we had in Sunday School last week.
Every Pastor who has been in the ministry for more than six months knows that we have a tendency to do this, but we give very little attention to why this is such a trap.  Let me give you three reasons I believe that we tend to fall into the trap of defining ministry success in such worldly terms:
1.) We still struggle with sinful pride.
No Pastor ever likes to admit it, but we all struggle with sinful pride.  If you don’t believe this just go to a Pastors conference and listen to the conversation around the dinner tables.  We love to try to find comparisons between ourselves and other Pastors that make us look good.  Numbers prove to be very tempting in these kinds of discussions.  Believe it or not, I have even heard Pastors brag that their church wasn’t declining as fast as someone else’s.  The best thing we could do it to simply acknowledge that this is a problem, confess it as sin, and then war against it when it rears it’s ugly head.  But what we usually do is to try to mask it in false humility or spirituality.
2.) We live in a fallen world.
We live in a fallen world where the true qualities that define ministry success are not highly esteemed.  The world exalts leaders but seldom acknowledges servants.  The world exalts in things that are large but misses that sometimes small things make the greatest impact.  But in the Kingdom of God the very attitudes and qualities that the world sees as insignificant are actually considered blessed (see Matthew 5:1-11).  The world creeps into the church in a million different ways and one of the most significant is in the ways we define success.  The answer, of course, is to dig deeper into the word of God and allow it to form our definition of success rather than the world.
3.) Satan influences the way we think.
One of Satan’s greatest tools against us is to simply get us to think in a manner that is contrary to the character and will of God.  This is what he did to Eve in the garden of Eden and it is what he continues to do to Pastors this very day.  By getting us to define success in ministry in a worldly way Satan draws our focus away from the things that are really important and onto the things that we have little or no control over.  He gets us chasing numbers and spending all of our time on the the things that produce the least amount of true spiritual fruit.  By chasing after world success we end up being failures in the things that are really important.

Mercy Received Must Become Mercy Shared

missionalWhat Is Mercy?

Mercy is one of the fundamental attributes of God. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem notes that we often see God’s mercy, patience, and grace mentioned together in the Scripture.[1] For instance, in Exodus 34:6–7, the Lord revealed Himself to Moses saying,

The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.

          In Psalm 103:8, David says that “the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Grudem says that, “because these characteristics of God are often mentioned together, it may seem difficult to distinguish them. Yet the characteristic of mercy is often emphasized where people are in misery or distress.”[2] With this in mind, we can define mercy as compassion for people who are in need. To further clarify what we mean by mercy, we can compare and contrast it with three other characteristics: grace, meekness, and love.

 

Mercy is related to grace

 Mercy is closely related to, but slightly different from, grace. Martyn Lloyd-Jones catches this difference when he says, “while grace looks down upon sin as a whole, mercy looks especially upon the miserable consequences of sin. So that mercy really means a sense of pity plus a desire to relieve the suffering. That is the essential meaning of being merciful: it is pity plus the action.”[3] We can use our salvation as an example of this distinction. In our salvation, grace extends pardon for our guilt, whereas mercy provides us with relief from its consequences. The apostle Paul connects these two closely related concepts in several of his greetings (see 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; and Titus 1:2). It may be helpful to understand these two terms as referring to disposition and action. Grace refers to the disposition or attitude within God, which compels Him to take action by offering us mercy. Mercy is the action God takes in response to His disposition of grace. Allow me to use a personal example to illustrate what I mean.

In addition to being the senior pastor of a Southern Baptist church, I’ve also served as a professor at two Bible colleges. As a teacher, I’ve gained a reputation for being rather gracious in the way I work with my students. A couple of semesters ago, I had a student who had fallen behind in his work. Honestly, he was so far behind, he should have failed the course. I had every right to give him an F for being lazy and slothful, but my desire was to help him get a good grade, so I gave him a second chance. My basic disposition toward this student was one of grace, which in turn led me to show him mercy. Instead of flunking him, I gave him an extension on his course work and helped him to end up with a B in the class. Hopefully, he learned an important lesson.

Do you see the relationship between my gracious disposition and merciful actions? Please don’t take this to mean that I think that I am as gracious or merciful as God, because I am not. But this does illustrate a key point that I want to make about the relationship between grace and mercy, namely that every act of mercy flows from the disposition of grace. God’s merciful actions toward us always flow from His disposition of grace. These two concepts are captured perfectly in the opening words of the most famous of all Christian hymns, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”[4] God’s disposition of grace caused Him to show mercy on wretched sinners like you and me.

We don’t have to look very far in the Bible before we encounter the mercy of God. In Genesis 3, just after the fall of Adam and Eve, God provided animal skins to cover their nakedness, but there is more here than meets the eye. In addition to covering their naked bodies, this event also marks the first example of animals being sacrificed for the covering of sin. In essence, the death of this animal temporarily covered the sin of Adam and Eve. God’s disposition of grace motivated Him to show mercy by covering Adam and Eve’s sin through the sacrifice of an animal. This temporary remedy for sin is carried throughout the Old Testament, and eventually the Israelites were instructed to build the tabernacle—and later the temple—for the purpose of offering sacrifices to God. Within the innermost portion of the tabernacle sat the Ark of the Covenant, and on top of the ark rested the “mercy seat” (Exodus 25:17). It was upon this mercy seat that the high priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice, thus making atonement for the sins of the nation for another year. Once again, it was God’s gracious disposition that led Him to take actions necessary to show mercy, but it is not until the New Testament that we see the preeminent display of God’s mercy.

In the New Testament, God’s mercy is most clearly and decisively displayed by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In Titus 3:5, the apostle Paul reminds us that our salvation was secured “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration, and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Once again, this passage shows us the interrelationship between God’s grace and mercy. God’s gracious disposition is expressed as He shows mercy to us by sending His Son to bear the penalty for our sin.

 

 Mercy is related to meekness

  Mercy is related to meekness because while being meek causes us to take full responsibility for our own sin, mercy leads us to be sympathetic and compassionate toward other people who are themselves struggling under the burden of sin. We will not have the attitude of mercy until we first cultivate the attitude of meekness. We can never show mercy unless we first come face-to-face with the enormity of our own sin and the greatness of God’s grace shown to us on the cross.

Matthew 18:21–35 provides us with another picture of the interaction between grace and mercy. In this parable, Jesus tells us about a man who owed an enormous debt that he could never repay. The Bible says he owed ten thousand talents. To put that in perspective: in Jesus’ day, a denarii was worth one day’s wage and a talent was the equivalent of six thousand days’ labor, in other words, sixteen years’ worth of an average salary. This man owed ten thousand talents, which means it would have taken him 160,000 years to pay off the debt he owed.

In an attempt to recover some of his loss, the master to whom the debt was owed ordered the man, his family, and everything he owned be sold off to pay the debt. Facing the horrible consequences of his debt, the man only had one possible way out: he pleaded with the master, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything” (verse 26). This man was trying to plead his case and buy more time, but the master does something remarkable. In verse 27 the Bible says, “And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” With a single sentence, the massive debt, which this man could never hope to repay, was erased. The slate was cleared, and the debt forgiven.

What happens next in the story, however, is a disappointing but far too common reaction. In verses 28–30, we are told that when the man returned from having been forgiven this enormous debt, he refused to show mercy toward one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred denarii. In fact, he even had his fellow servant arrested and thrown in jail. Let that sink in for a minute: he had been forgiven the equivalent of 160,000 years’ worth of salary, but he refused to show mercy toward someone who owed him the equivalent of little more than three months’ wages.

The Bible says when the master heard what this ungrateful servant had done, he had him summoned, saying, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Verses 32–33). Then he ordered the ungrateful servant arrested and thrown in jail. Having tasted the grace and mercy of his master, we would think he would have reciprocated and shown mercy toward his fellow servant, but mercy is not a natural part of our fallen condition. An attitude of mercy is cultivated in the life of a person only when he or she gains a deep appreciation for the gospel.

One of the members of our church is a young man who went through a difficult struggle with alcohol, but with the help of a Christian-based rehabilitation program, he came to know Christ and experienced a dramatic transformation in his life. His life is a testimony to the grace of God and the transforming power of the gospel. On several occasions, I have invited this young man to share his story with people who have come to me for counseling because of a similar problem. In these situations, I am always amazed by the way he is able to sympathize with their plight and demonstrate compassion toward them while at the same time remaining firm in the godly, spiritual advice he gives them. The awareness of his own struggle with alcohol has produced within him genuine meekness and granted him an attitude of mercy toward other people who are going through the same battle.

Having served for nearly twenty years in the pastorate, I wish I could say that everyone in the church is like this young man, but the reality is that many people within the church are more like the ungrateful servant. One of the difficulties facing the modern church is that we’ve gained a reputation for not being very merciful. In fact, it’s been said that the church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.

If we want to make an impact on our world, this must change. The church must be a place where broken and desperate people can find the grace and mercy they need. We need people who are aware of the enormous debt of sin that has been forgiven in their lives. This awareness will allow them to cultivate the attitude of meekness, which in turn will result in the cultivation of an attitude of mercy. When meekness and mercy are combined, people will begin to see the love of God reflected in our lives and be drawn to the message we preach.

 

 

Mercy is related to love

 

Mercy is really an outpouring of love. Love is constant and flows regardless of whether or not there is a need, whereas mercy always comes in response to a need. In other words, love provides the motivation for mercy. Perhaps one of the best verses to display this relationship is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Here we see that God’s love is manifested in action: “He gave his only Son.” In other words, it is the love of God that compels Him to act in mercy by giving His own Son on the cross to die for our sin. God pours out His mercy on us because He loves us.

Jesus told His disciples in John 13:34–35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is one of the most important concepts the church needs to grasp today. Jesus says the way people will know we are His followers is through our actions, not our words. Merely saying we love other people doesn’t prove anything; our love must be manifested through genuine acts of mercy. I am convinced that one of the best ways to regain our voice in the public arena is for Christians to once again be known for the way we love one another and the people who live around us.

We are facing one of the most jaded and skeptical generations the church has ever encountered. People in our culture are looking for something genuine and real they can believe in, but sadly, what they often see in the church looks nothing like the Christianity portrayed in the Bible. Instead of seeing genuine love manifested by acts of mercy, people outside of the church are used to seeing hypocrisy and uncaring ambivalence. If we want to make an impact on the culture, we are going to have to return to biblical Christianity, both in doctrine and practice. A major part of this return must be in the area of mercy ministry. The old saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Many outside of the church have concluded that Christians are uncaring and harsh, but this can change if we will cultivate the gospel-shaped attitudes listed for us in the Beatitudes.

As a pastor, one of the things I’ve tried to lead our church to do is to be actively involved in ministering to our community. We started by holding a couple of major events each year intended to minister to needs in our community. One year, for instance, we held a free health clinic at the church where people could come and have their blood pressure, cholesterol, and other vital health issues tested for free. The next year, we did a program called “Let My People Mow,” the brainchild of one of our summer interns who got a dozen or so teenage boys to dedicate their Saturday mornings to cutting grass for some of the senior adults around our community.

As this desire to reach out and minister to our community grew, God sent two major ice storms and the worst flood to hit the Ohio River since 1937. In each of these situations, our church took the initiative in providing volunteer workers to fill sandbags, pick up fallen branches, and feed those whose homes had been damaged. Over a period of several years, we began to see a noticeable shift in how people perceived our church, and we found that people in our community were becoming more and more open to the gospel message when we shared it.

At first, our staff had to plan and organize every project, but over the past two years, our church members have begun to spontaneously come up with ways to meet the needs of our community. For instance, this spring and summer, a group from the church caught a vision for setting up a community garden on the rear property of our church building. More than a dozen men volunteered to give their time and effort to till, plant, and tend this garden, while dozens more have come out to help distribute the produce and present the gospel to those who come each week to receive vegetables.

I share this with you not to sound arrogant or to suggest that every church should do things the way we are doing them, but simply to say that God uses the ministry of mercy through the church to open opportunities for sharing the gospel. The more we cultivate this attitude of mercy, which results in acts of love, the more people will be able to see the character of Christ in our lives. In other words, mercy that has been received needs to become mercy that is shared.

 

The above is an excerpt from my book “Cultivating A Gospel-Shaped Attitude.” Click here if you would like to know more about this book.


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 200.

[2] Ibid.

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 84.

[4] John Newton, “Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound.” (No. 104) in The Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Lifeway Worship, 2008)

Sharing A Common Life in Christ

I have been reading Jerry Bridge’s book entitled “True Community” and reflecting on some of 51dmpP-kBwL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Biblical teachings concerning the church as a community of believers.  In his book Bridges makes the following statement:

There are many organizations both secular and Christian, who members work together to pursue common goals.  Some of these groups may call themselves communities.  But Biblical community goes much deeper than sharing common goals, though it ultimately involves that.  Biblical community is first of all the sharing of a common life in Christ   It is when we grasp this truth that we are in a position to begin to understand true community. (page 11)

This is a truth that is not talked about nearly enough in the church today.  Too often we think of  the church the way we think of other organizations and communities we belong to, but this is a mistake.  The defining characteristic of a Christian community, the thing that makes the church different than any other organization in the world, is our union and communion with Christ.

Both individually and corporately we need to fundamentally change the way we view our walk with Christ.  The truth is that if we don’t learn to abide in Christ and to share His life on a personal/individual level we will never experience true community in the church.  But the flip side of the coin is also true, if we don’t understand the church as a community of believers sharing a common life in Christ we will struggle to abide in Him.  It is not an either/or proposition it is a both/and.  Nevertheless, we start to experience true community by learning to abide in Christ.

In the second chapter of his book mentions four ways that people today try to live the Christian life.

  1. Those who try to live the Christian life entirely on their own, by their own effort and willpower.
  2. Those who try to life the Christian by simply turning it “all over to Christ” We might call this a passive approach to the Christian life.
  3. Those who have a partial dependence on God.  They try to do it themselves until they get in trouble and then call on God.
  4. Finally, there are those who have discovered the Biblical approach to the Christian life, which Bridges calls “the abiding-in-Christ way.”

In John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him,he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  Bridges sums up this way of living by pointing out that those who live this way have “learned that he needs God’s help not just beyond a certain point but in every aspect of life.  He doesn’t pray for help just during crisis or stressful times.  Rather, his prayer is, “Lord, enable me all day long, for with You I can do nothing.” (p.29)

 

Separating Personal Preference from Biblical Mandates

ID-10053881As Pastors we are pretty good at identifying when our people are putting personal preferences ahead of Biblical principles but we are less able to identify this trait in ourselves.  A couple of years ago I was teaching a Pastoral ministries class for a local Bible college and we were discussing the observance of the ordinances.  Most of the students came from a traditional southern baptist background and were used to observing the Lord’s supper in a fairly typical manner — i.e. the elements were served by the deacons and distributed to the congregation by passing the plates around.  But students from other backgrounds came with a variety of ways that the elements were distributed — some had the people come forward to receive the elements, others had stations where the people went to receive the elements.  In addition, there was a noticeable divide in the class over who could distribute the elements — some argued that only men could distribute, others argued that they must be ordained etc…  The interesting thing about this discussion to me was that nearly every student believed they were practicing the Lord’s Supper was not only right but that the other ways were wrong.

That debate went on for the better part of an hour and every student made passionate and theological arguments for their case about why their way was the right way.  Not one of them, however, could point to a clear passage of Scripture that gave support to their argument.  Every student in that class was serving as a Pastor in a local church but not one of them could separate their own personal/denominational preference from Biblical mandates.  In fact, the majority of them ended up arguing the case for their preference as if they were basing it on a Biblical mandate.

I am convinced that this is a problem in my own ministry and suspect that it is a problem in yours as well.  Over the years, I have counseled with a number of Pastors who were having various troubles in their churches.  The trend that I have noticed is that while we are very adept at seeing where I our people confuse their personal preferences with a Biblical mandate, we are blind to the problem in our own lives.  So let me give you a few key questions to ask yourself:

1.) Is this really important?  Adrian Rogers coined it this way many years ago, “Is this a hill on which I am willing to die?”  The sad truth is that often Pastors simply can’t decide what is important and what isn’t.  We are willing to die on every hill, no matter how insignificant the matter, that we fight worthless battles.  So the first question that I ask myself is “Is this really that important?”

2.) What does the Bible say?  When faced with a decision take the time to actually sit down and think through what the Bible has to say about the matter.  Notice that I said, “what the Bible has to say” not “what does your favorite preacher/author have to say about it.”  Frankly speaking, we need to stop resting the authority for matters of faith and practice in the hands of the experts and return it to where it belongs— the Bible.  We all have our favorite authors and Pastors but the truth is that they are not the authority for the church. You are not ready to make a decision until you have made an honest examination of what the Bible says about the matter.

3.) Is this the right time? When you are leading a church you need to make a set of clear priorities.  Sometimes Pastors fail simply because they try to make too much change too fast.  God has sent you to the church for the long haul, be patient and willing to set things of secondary important aside in order to get get the more important things done.

 

Taking Personal Responsibility for Sin

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.21.03 PMHere is a brief excerpt from my book “Cultivating A Gospel Shaped Attitude” about the importance of taking personal responsibility for sin. If you like it, I invite you to read the rest of the book.

 

Taking Personal Responsibility for Sin

 The most infamous episode in David’s life occurred during the spring of the year when he should have been out on the battlefield with the army of Israel, but instead stayed home. That night, David was walking on his rooftop when he spied a beautiful woman taking a bath. He sent for her, and they ended up committing adultery. As if that were not enough, David then had her husband killed in order to cover his tracks (2 Samuel 11). There are several points in this story where David had the opportunity to turn around and avoid this terrible sin altogether, but instead, he ran right past every warning sign placed in his path and plunged headlong into sin. David did not set out to get entangled in a web of his own creation, but nevertheless, one night of pleasure turned into a lifetime of pain. If the story stopped here, it would serve as an excellent example of human depravity and abuse of power, but the story does not end with David’s sin. God had a greater plan for David, so He sent the prophet Nathan to deliver a message (2 Samuel 12:1–15).

When Nathan arrived, he told David a story about two men, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had all of the flocks he could ever want, while the poor man had only one little ewe lamb. The poor man loved this lamb and took it to his home where it became part of his family. One day, however, the rich man had some guests over for dinner and didn’t want to kill any of his own flocks, so he took the poor man’s beloved lamb and served it for dinner. When David heard the story, he grew angry and announced, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (verses 5–6). Nathan then looked David straight in the eye and said, “You are the man!” When Nathan finished speaking, David’s heart was broken and he said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (v.13)

This is a surprising twist in the story because up to this moment, David had done everything within his power to try to cover up and hide his sin. He hadn’t shown anything even remotely resembling remorse. But when confronted by the Word of God through Nathan the prophet, we see a change take place in David’s heart. For the first time in this entire episode, David took personal responsibility for his sin and displayed what it means to be poor in spirit.

David was not perfect; he sinned and he sinned greatly. That is why we relate so well to him: because he was a human being just like us and possessed the capacity to sin in the most arrogant and foolish of ways. He is not presented to us as an example of moral perfection, but rather as the recipient of God’s grace. When confronted by Nathan, he could have gotten defensive and attempted to continue the charade, but he didn’t. He could have continued trying to hide his sin or to deny that it ever happened, but he didn’t. Instead, when confronted by his sin, David took personal responsibility for what he’d done and turned to God in repentance and faith.

We can never fully experience the grace of God until we come face-to-face with the enormity of our sin and be willing to take personal responsibility for what we have done. The men and women we meet in the Bible are remarkably like us and subject to the same sinful passions, desires, and cravings we encounter every day. Some were proud and arrogant, refusing to admit their sin. Others were genuinely poor in spirit, turning to God for forgiveness. Over the years, I’ve seen both of these responses played out within the church. I’ve watched people who have committed terrible, unspeakable acts of sin take personal responsibility and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. And over the years, it has never ceased to amaze me how God can take those who are utterly broken under the burden of sin and put their lives back together after they take responsibility for their actions. But I’ve also seen those who have decided to go the other direction and refuse to admit their sin. There is nothing more tragic for a pastor than to watch the bitter root of sin growing in a person’s heart and eventually consuming every aspect of their life.